The depressing speed with which sound bites outstrip historical context

 by Martin Belam, 18 September 2006

I think one of the things that most disappoints me about the way the internet and 24 hour news drive events today is the depressing speed with which sound bites and quotes can circle the globe, without anyone seeming to take the time to look at context. I thought the internet was designed to help people understand, not strip public debate of context.

A classic case happened last week with the reporting of the Pope's now controversial speech in Germany. The internet should have made it easier for people to understand what he was talking about. You can download a PDF of the entire speech and read the full text for yourself.

Instead, thanks in part to the internet and 24 hour news channels, and in part to the fact that we increasingly seem to be living in a global arena dominated by religious intolerance, what speed around the globe was some out of context quotes, and some inflammatory responses. Reading the whole text it is impossible to come to the conclusion that the Pope issued 'an incendiary diatribe against Islam', or 'a warning of serious danger in the future'. But those were quotes from Amine Lotfi and the Nawa-I-Waqt newspaper respectively that were zipping through the ether.

Of course, I always find it slightly odd that people on both sides of this debate, whose values and belief systems stress that anyone who doesn't think or act the same as them will be condemned to an eternity of torment after they die, should worry so much about interfaith tolerance in "this" life.

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